China began enrolling patients in a clinical trial of Gilead Sciences' antiviral remdesivir as a potential treatment for patients infected with the novel coronavirus, reported The New York Times.
The experimental intravenous drug has not yet been studied in patients with any coronavirus disease, but studies of infected mice and monkeys have suggested that remdesivir can fight coronaviruses, the news source said.
Remdesivir also appears to be safe, having been tested without ill effects in Ebola patients, although it did not work well against that virus, which is in a different family from coronaviruses.
Doctors in Washington State gave remdesivir to the first coronavirus patient in the US last week after his condition worsened, with symptoms improving the next day, while another report published by scientists in China showed that remdesivir blocked the new coronavirus from infecting cells grown in the laboratory.
"It is important to keep in mind that this is an experimental medicine that has only been used in a small number of patients with 2019-nCoV to date, so we do not have an appropriately robust understanding of the effect of this drug to warrant broad use at this time," noted Gilead spokesman Ryan McKeel.
Two clinical trials will take place in Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, with 500 patients receiving the drug, while comparison groups will get a placebo, McKeel added.